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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

I recently attended the annual meeting of the Microfinance Network (MFN), which was hosted by the Alexandria Business Association in Alexandria, Egypt. MFN is a global network of some of the largest and leading microfinance institutions, and its annual meeting has long been known for candid and in-depth sharing of experience among the leaders of these institutions, as this post demonstrates.

Ask a microfinance CEO what’s making his or her life hard these days, and the answer is likely to be politics.

That’s hardly surprising when the speaker is Motaz Tabaa, CEO of the Alexandria Business Association (ABA), one of the largest microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Egypt. On January 28, 2011, when the occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo held the world’s attention and led to the resignation of then-President Mubarak, it became impossible for ABA to operate. But before the week was over, staff were back on the streets, collecting and disbursing loans, and sleeping at the office to guard the cash that couldn’t be deposited in banks, which remained still closed.

Nearly every MFI in the group had a similar encounter with crisis – consider the political violence (and/or natural disaster) that has touched Uganda, Nigeria, Armenia, Mexico, Haiti, and Bangladesh in recent years. Today, Al Majmoua in Lebanon and Tamweelcom in Jordan are overwhelmed with the attempt to serve the Syrian refugees that have crossed their borders. The CEOs who have experienced such upheaval agreed about the role of MFIs in responding quickly to help clients obtain cash, keep their businesses open, and then rebuild. Given how prevalent political and natural crises are, organizations have developed protocols for responding quickly. Even while we met, Enrique Majos of Compartamos received news of a tornado in Mexico, and sent the Compartamos natural disaster team into action.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

My proudest moments as a parent are when my 2-year-old son finds change lying around the house and runs excitedly to put it in his piggybank. We never consciously did anything to encourage this behavior. I like to think it is due to some small part of my DNA shining through.

The recent CFI and HelpAge report, Aging and Financial Inclusion: An Opportunity, highlights that most people expect to use accumulated savings and assets to fund their retirement, but in reality end up relying primarily on support from family, friends, and the government.

I’ve blogged in the past about how much trouble people have with saving. And it seems financial intuitions for their part use every imaginable mechanism to make it easy (pension contributions at 7/11, behavioral nudges for opting employees into retirement plans), fun (prize-linked savings, lotteries, and games), or obligatory (compulsory savings as a loan requirement) for their clients to save.

I have always believed that the ability to save is a key piece of financial security, and that building the financial capability to save at a young age has a profound impact on financial security throughout a person’s life, even into the retirement years. Recent research undertaken by CFED to “deepen our understanding of youth financial capability and explore the behaviors, types of knowledge and personality characteristics that help children and youth achieve financial well-being in adulthood” supports that belief. The research included an extensive literature review of consumer science, developmental psychology, and related fields to explore the factors that comprise youth financial capability, as well as how and when these abilities are developed.

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> Posted by Center Staff

What’s happening this week in the world of financial inclusion? Check out the second issue of our new weekly online magazine, the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed.

In case you missed the inaugural issue, each Monday the FI2020 News Feed will bring you the big news in financial inclusion. We’ll pull from all over to spotlight great new stories, initiatives, videos, podcasts, and more.

Here are some of the pieces featured in this week’s issue:

  • Business Today’s recent article on account inactivity in India’s Jan Dhan Yojana scheme
  • The Microcredit Summit Campaign’s post on the Government of Ecuador committing to disability inclusion
  • The Wall Street Journal‘s announcement of finalists in the Asia-Pacific Financial Inclusion Challenge
  • Agencia de Noticias Andina’s article on an Indian financial inclusion delegation’s recent trip to Peru

To read the second issue, click here, and make sure to subscribe by entering your email address in the right-hand menu so you can be notified when the latest issue comes out.

Have you come across a story or initiative you think we should cover? Email your ideas to us at ezuehlke@accion.org.

> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

What financial inclusion stakeholders believe is most important in advancing client protection

Regulators take the lead in advancing client protection in financial services, we’ve heard.  Providers “merely comply.”

If you are of the view that providers can, and should, take a leading role in client protection, then the results of a recent survey conducted by the Aspen Institute are discouraging.  The survey, carried out on behalf of the Smart Campaign as part of its strategic planning, took a look at the three-legged stool of client protection—providers, regulators, and consumers—and asked which element was the most important.  Of the financial inclusion stakeholders who were interviewed, only 24 percent said that provider-led initiatives were the most important element in client protection.  By comparison, 39 percent thought regulation and governance were the most important, and 37 percent put their faith in consumer awareness and activism.

I disagree!  We believe action from the financial services providers themselves is a vital missing link.  But what is holding them back?  In a consultative process carried out by the Financial Inclusion 2020 project over the past year, here are the top six reasons we heard for providers not taking the lead in consumer protection. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Sonja Kelly, CFI, and Thierry van Bastelaer, Abt Associates, American University, and the Microinsurance Network

Even 10 years ago, most of us would never have thought that the words “insurance” and “low-income households in the developing world” would be heard in the same sentence. It would have been as strange as, say, hearing the words “really good coffee” and “Washington, D.C.” in the same sentence.

But times have changed. Thanks to tremendous innovation in product design, pricing, and distribution systems, insurance is increasingly affordable to low-income households that are looking for ways to protect themselves from daily risky events. We should take a few moments to stop and celebrate this development. (Pause for celebration.) Thank you.

At the same time, we should learn from the history of the broader financial inclusion field. It took many years for the majority of the field to admit that credit alone can’t meet all the financial needs of poor families. Hopefully the excitement over insurance will not similarly delay the realization that it alone can’t address all the financial protection needs of these families. A great variety of financial products is needed to address an even greater diversity of needs.

So, over a cup of really good coffee one afternoon in Washington, D.C., we sketched out a possible framework that articulates where insurance fits into the product spectrum for financial risk protection vis-a-vis savings and loans.¹

We thought of risk protection expenses along two axes: frequency and size, and plotted expenses on a 2×2 table (forgive our back-of-the-napkin scribble).

Financially inclusive products are best designed to finance risk management expenses in the top left and bottom right quadrants of the graph. High-frequency inexpensive outlays can, when accumulating over time, significantly disrupt the cash flows of low-income families. Similarly, low-frequency expensive payments can ruin years of carefully planned asset accumulation. Low-frequency and inexpensive events (bottom left) can usually be covered by cash, and high-frequency expensive events (top right) are usually beyond the reach of most financial inclusion products.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

Today, in 2070, with advanced robotization of jobs in all sectors, “work” has become a minority pursuit and financial inclusion is mostly understood to mean government cash transfers. Other financial products like loans are anachronisms of a bygone era. The government knows that such transfer programs like “unemployment benefits” are the only way to keep the anemic engine of demand alive for the goods and services that are now produced by a smaller and smaller sliver of the population who live in Byzantine splendor far removed from the humdrum circumstances of the vast majority. (Indeed in 2070, “unemployment” is a forgotten term from an era when “work” was a defining feature of life.) And the lack of work extends to what is today called “knowledge economy” occupations as well as almost every other category of white and blue collar work. Now, all humans enjoy a pension plan that goes into effect at birth and is more than enough to meet basic consumption needs. The benefit ends only with death by lethal injection at the mandatory termination age of 120.

Am I painting a scenario that seems wildly implausible? Perhaps.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Blog posts. Twitter feeds. Facebook updates. Email listservs. Google Alerts. Lunchtime conversations… We all have our ways, however handy and effective, of trying to stay abreast of what’s happening around the world. For those interested in financial inclusion, this is quite the challenge. The release of new products, partnerships, publications, and policies is a constant. But at CFI’s Financial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) project, combing the world for the latest inclusion insights, trends, and developments is part of what we do. So, we decided to go one step further.

Starting today, each week the FI2020 team will bring you the big news in financial inclusion in an online magazine, the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed. We’ll pull from all over to spotlight great new stories, initiatives, videos, podcasts, and more. To give you a sense, the collection of pieces that make up this week’s edition touch on:

  • JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s new report on U.S. households’ financial resilience, Weathering Volatility
  • AllAfrica’s recent article on the new partnership between Tigo and Juntos in Tanzania
  • The Guardian’s interactive post that visualizes borrowing trends globally
  • A World Bank video on assessing if microloans really make a difference

To check out the first edition, click here, and make sure to subscribe so you can be notified when the latest issue comes out.

Have you come across a story or initiative you think we should cover? Email your ideas to us at ezuehlke@accion.org.

> Posted by Alex Counts, President and CEO, Grameen Foundation

Account Use (Developing Economies) - Click to Enlarge

Account Use (Developing Economies) – Click to Enlarge

Especially since the Global Findex report made headlines around the world with its finding that the number of financially excluded dropped from 2.5 billion to 2 billion during the period 2011-2014, I have been increasingly uneasy with equating account access as financial inclusion, and especially as equivalent to the essential concept of full financial inclusion as defined by CFI. The Center’s new publication “By the Numbers” does an excellent job helping people to digest all the publicly available data about financial inclusion, and make sense of them. It also reinforces my unease.

Despite the progress in account openings, the report makes it clear that the number of people actually using accounts is unfortunately not growing. Even more worrying, it argues that most accounts “are not really functioning as the hoped-for ‘on-ramp’ to financial inclusion.” The risk, as I see it, is that by adopting a stunted definition of financial inclusion that emphasizes account openings, we may be measuring and incentivizing the wrong things. The report wisely urges “caution regarding the value of mass drives for account opening, such as mandated no frills accounts…”

While the available data may overstate progress in some areas, the data may understate it in others due to the tendency to focus only on transactions at formal financial institutions. As the report notes, the percentage of people in low and middle income countries who save increased from 31 percent to 54 percent — quite a jump! — over three years, but this “is not reflected in a commensurate increase in saving in financial institutions.” Global surveys tend to miss savings groups and microfinance institutions, which in many markets play important roles. The alarming gaps in data related to access among vulnerable populations are also noted.

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> Posted by ideas42

The following post was originally published on the ideas42 blog.

For many of us, saving enough for retirement remains a murky, unrealized goal. Behavioral science has already proven useful in some ways, but there are still many opportunities to apply a behavioral lens to better preparing for the future.

In Mexico, not putting aside enough for retirement is a persistent problem for many people. As a result, 27 percent of the nation’s elderly live in poverty. While recent reforms to the retirement system have provided more Mexicans with individual retirement accounts than ever before, mandatory contribution rates remain too low to provide for post-retirement living expenses. To cover the rest, the system currently allows people to make voluntary contributions to their individual accounts. The problem is that they don’t: currently, less than 1 percent of the 50 million account holders make at least one contribution each year.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Can the world achieve full financial inclusion by 2020? By the Numbers: Benchmarking Progress Toward Financial Inclusion, a new Financial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) publication from CFI, offers a quantitative review of financial inclusion globally, using publicly available data to examine recent progress and projecting a scenario out to 2020.

Last month the development community emitted a collective cheer as the new Global Findex data revealed that the number of unbanked individuals around the world dropped from 2.5 billion to 2 billion between 2011 and 2014. This looks like huge progress. If the trends continue, the financial exclusion gap will close to 1 billion individuals without access to formal financial services by 2020.

However, know it’s not all about access. We promote financial inclusion to enable people to use financial services to better manage their lives. A fully included person is an active user of quality financial services that bring significant value. Expanding financial access is the first step towards financial inclusion, and it needs to be followed by an uptick in the frequency and ways in which people use services as well as strengthening of the financial ecosystem. By the Numbers explores progress in these areas along with access and estimates the potential for reaching full inclusion by 2020.

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Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed

In an effort to become the first stop for people interested in all matters regarding financial inclusion, each week the FI2020 team at CFI highlights compelling stories and content from across the web. Click here to visit the news feed.

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.
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